Day After Ouster, Orioles Charting Comeback
By Mark Maske
BALTIMORE, Oct. 16 Baltimore Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos seems to be leaning toward retaining Manager Davey Johnson for next season but has not made a final decision and might not do so for a few weeks, team sources said today.
In addition, on the day after the Orioles' season ended with a 1-0, 11-inning loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of a riveting American League Championship Series, Pat Gillick reiterated that he plans to return next season to complete his three-year contract as the club's general manager.
Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone said they don't plan to trade all-star second baseman Roberto Alomar, although Gillick acknowledged that there's lingering "tenseness" between Alomar and Johnson. Gillick and Malone listed the Orioles' primary offseason goals as re-signing potential free agents Brady Anderson and Randy Myers or finding suitable replacements for them, and adding a top starting pitcher to go with Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key.
Gillick and Malone said they plan to recommend to Angelos that they do their best to keep this season's team intact. The Orioles spent every day of the regular season in first place in the AL East on their way to their first division title since 1983 and second consecutive ALCS appearance. However, they became the first club in baseball history to fail to appear in the World Series after going wire to wire during the regular season.
"It depends on what the [player] payroll will be," Malone said. "It's up to Mr. Angelos. I think he wants to keep everybody. It was the best club in baseball, in my opinion. We didn't win the World Series, but I still think we were the best club in baseball this year and will be next year, and I think he wants to bring everyone back."
As they packed their belongings in a quiet clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, several players echoed the sentiments expressed by Anderson, Cal Ripken and others after Wednesday's defeat that they believe the team, from its front office to its manager to its coaches to its players, should not be disassembled. Anderson has told friends he'd be unlikely to return if Johnson is dismissed. Myers said last month that the statuses of Johnson and Gillick will affect his free agent decision.
"It was very disappointing," Key said today of the manner in which the season ended. "I thought we had the best team, but we got beat. The best team doesn't always win in baseball. ... Every year is different. [But] I'd like to give it a try with basically the same team" next season.
Gillick and Malone said they are operating under the assumption that Johnson will be back for the final season of his three-year, $2.25 million contract. Angelos declined to comment. People familiar with the owner's thinking said he's upset with some of the decisions Johnson made during the ALCS but likely will bring him back, largely because he otherwise would have to pay Johnson $750,000 next year not to manage.
Still, club sources said Johnson's return is not a certainty. Johnson and Angelos never have had a smooth relationship. They clashed last winter after Angelos ordered the firing of Pat Dobson as pitching coach and replaced him with Ray Miller. This season, Angelos apparently became angry when he wasn't consulted before Johnson fined Alomar $10,500 for skipping a team banquet in April and an exhibition game at Class AAA Rochester in July.
That fine resulted in an uneasy relationship between Alomar and Johnson, and some club officials have been concerned that Alomar who has one season remaining on a three-year, $18 million contract will ask to be traded. But Gillick said today: "There might be some tenseness there, but I think he'll be back."
Gillick has said that he plans to remain the GM through next season, but next year may be his final one as a baseball executive. He repeated that intention today. The Orioles' coaches virtually are certain to return if Johnson does, although hitting instructor Rick Down is a top candidate for the Toronto Blue Jays' managerial job.
The Orioles have option years for the 1998 season in the contracts of outfielder Eric Davis and pitcher Shawn Boskie. Angelos already has indicated that the team will exercise its option in Davis's contract. Erickson and reliever Jesse Orosco already have had options for next season in their contracts automatically take effect based upon their performances this year.
Anderson and Angelos once were close to completing a four-year contract extension worth approximately $6 million per season, and Anderson says he plans to re-sign with the Orioles. Myers had perhaps the best season ever for a closer, and setup man Armando Benitez's performance during the ALCS in which he surrendered three-game winning hits, including Tony Fernandez's home run with two outs in the top of the 11th on Wednesday may have signaled that he isn't quite ready to be Myers's successor.
The other Orioles eligible to become free agents during the 15-day filing period that follows the World Series are pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, designated hitter Harold Baines, catcher Lenny Webster, outfielder Jerome Walton and infielder Jeff Reboulet. Team officials probably will make outfielder Geronimo Berroa a free agent in December rather than risk going to salary arbitration with him. Benitez and outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Tarasco also are eligible for arbitration. Berroa and catcher Chris Hoiles likely will be left unprotected for next month's expansion draft, but their $3 million-plus salaries could scare off the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hoiles could be facing knee surgery after being sidelined for a month during the regular season because of a partially torn medial collateral ligament. Malone said today that both of Webster's shoulders and right elbow and Kamieniecki's right elbow also will be examined by doctors soon. Ripken said late Wednesday that he plans to decide soon whether he'll undergo surgery for the disk problem in his back.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company